Essay, Research Paper: Violence In Work


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Violence in the United States has reached epidemic proportions (Mason 1).
Increasingly, violent behavior is being observed in the American workplace
(McCune 52). This research examines the phenomenon of work-related violence. An
overview of the problem is followed by a discussion of possible explanations for
such behavior. The increase in the incidence of work-related violence in the
United States is characterized by behaviors that range from telephonic threats
to murder (Filipczak 39-40). Homicide is now the second most common cause of
on-the-job deaths in the United States. Approximately 7,000 work-related
homicides occur each year in the United States (Segal 33). More than 80 percent
of work-related homicides result from gun-related injuries (Windau 58-9). A
general profile of the perpetrator of violent work-related acts is a white male
under a high level of stress (Filipczak 39). A more specific profile narrows the
age range to 30-40 years old and adds the condition that the individual is
entirely dependent financially on the individual's current employment (Schut
125). Victims of work-related violence are predominately males (83 percent)
between the ages of 25 and 54 years old (Windau 58-9). The proportion of
American workers who have been the victims of physical attacks in connection
with their employment over the span of their career is estimated at 15 percent (Lipman
15). Four percent of the total number of homicides in the United States are
work-related (Schut 125). With respect to non-fatal violent incidents, however,
16 percent of all such incidents in the United States are work-related. Almost
one million non-fatal work-related violent incidents occur each year in the
United States (Friedman 4). Approximately 10 percent of these incidents involved
the use of handguns (Friedman 4). Violence is most typically an outgrowth of
conflict. By definition, conflict is simply a disagreement between two or more
parties over some issue, objective, or behavior. A conflict, thus, is a dispute.
Violence is an outgrowth of conflict when peaceful dispute mechanisms fail. When
family members, co-workers, friends, strangers, ethnic and racial groups, and
even entire nations perceive that they are being denied something that they feel
they should have (regardless of the validity of their justification for such a
perception), the typical response is to identify the party responsible for such
denial. When such identification is established, the essence of a conflict
situation, the issue and the parties has been defined. Conflict may be the
result of genuine inequities among parties, or conflict may stem from cultural
differences that shape perceptions. Conflict need not necessarily be detrimental
to the parties involved. Effective and peaceable dispute resolution may
introduce greater equity into society and bring the parties involved in a
conflict closer together; conflict is detrimental, however, when violent
behavior is the outcome. The profiles of persons who perpetrate acts of
work-related violence always characterize such persons as "loners" (Schut
125). Definitively, loners often experience difficulty both in establishing and
maintaining worthwhile personal and group relationships. The integration of
individuals into their society stems from the forces that place them within the
social system and govern their participation and patterned associations with
others. Social values, group memberships, and social roles are conceived as the
axes providing the ties that structure social interaction, place the person in
society, and order relations with others (Bertrand 22). In effect, actors are
integrated into society through the beliefs they hold, the positions they
occupy, and the groups to which they belong. Maintaining social patterns,
however, is often difficult (Bertrand 23). While great individual variation
exists, many people find it increasingly difficult to maintain friendships,
neighborhood ties, and family relationships under the changing conditions of
their lives. The development and growth of adult groups are functions of four
activities described by Bertrand (76). These activities are adaptation, goal
attainment, integration, and pattern maintenance and extension. The motives for
the development of adult groups include the immediate gratification of personal
needs, the gaining of mechanisms for continuing gratification, the pursuit of
collective goals, and the gaining of conditions for self-determination. When
individuals cannot fulfill these objectives, they may then resort to violent
behavior as a consequence. An absence of effective interpersonal communications
within organizational settings may be implicated in the estrangement of some
individuals from their co-workers and then resort to violent behavior (Weide
& Abbott 143). One of the primary requirements for the development of
effective interpersonal communications with and between persons is the
establishment of interpersonal trust (Bertrand 198). Research indicates that a
person will likely distort information received from another that is not
trusted. Thus if person 'B' distrusts person 'A', then person 'B' will become
evasive, attempt to put himself or herself into a more favorable light, or will
express exaggerated disagreement with person 'A'. As a consequence, person 'B'
may attempt to be quite accurate in communication with person 'A' however, the
potential of such accurate communication is reduced because of the low level of
trust existing between the two parties. Further, pleasant matters are more
likely to be the subject of communications where interpersonal trust is not
stronger than unpleasant matters, and achievements were more likely to be the
subject of communications in such an environment than are problems and
difficulties (Bertrand 202). The accuracy of communications, thus, is a function
of trust. The accuracy of information and the fostering of effective
interpersonal communication are essential to the defusing of conflicts that may
result in work-related behavior. Individuals with high internal security levels
distort communications less than do individuals with low internal security
levels (Silberman 85). Thus, it appears that security is a primary need that
must be fulfilled before effective interpersonal communications may be
established. Insecurity is often a function of the high levels of stress. High
levels of stress also have been included in the profile of the violent
work-related offender (Filipczak 39). Stress is a state of tension, strain, or
pressure, and is a normal reaction resulting from the interaction between an
individual and the environment. Reactions to stress may produce either positive
or negative results, depending upon the causes of the stress, other factors
present in an environment, and characteristics of affected individuals. The
phenomenon of stress is recognized as a major contributor to the onset of
significant physical and mental health problems in the lives of individuals
(Hinkle 564). Since the late 1970's, stress has also been increasingly
implicated as an adverse factor in areas of life other than physical and mental
health (Naylor, Pritchard & Ilgen 42). In the organizational environment, as
an example, stress has been implicated in the deterioration of individual
performance efficiency, which in turn affects overall performance of the
organization, and the phenomenon has been linked to high personnel turnover.
Negative stress has been linked to impaired productivity among all employee
groups (Francis & Millburn 74). A strong predictive relationship between
life event changes and negative stress outcomes. Higher mortality rates are
found among widows, widowers, and divorcees than among married or single (never
married) persons as an example. Among cancer patients, significantly greater
proportions were found to have suffered a recent relationship loss than had not
(Totman 16). Studies in this area also found that symptoms of stress outcomes
often began with initial relationship loses the symptoms subsided with the
return or improvement of a relationship and subsequently re-appeared with a
final relationship loss. Even positive life event changes appear to be related
to temporary negative stress outcomes (Lewis & Lewis 177). This finding was
interpreted to indicate that social disruption and disintegration follow any
major change in the normal living pattern, positive or negative (Lewis &
Lewis 178). The significance of the research into the relationship between life
event changes and stress is twofold. First, significant stress outcomes may be
reasonably expected from significant life event changes. Second, these outcomes
may be either positive or negative in character, such life event changes,
however, likely are at work in people who perpetrate acts of violence in their
place of work. Two primary sources of occupational stress have been identified
(Bertrand 199). The first source of these stressors is the job itself. The
specific characteristics of a job are the source of what are called
"task-related stressors." The second source of occupational stressors
is the organizational environment itself. Stressors associated with the
organizational environment are referred to as being "context-related".
Context-related stressors are external to the tasks associated with a job.
Context-related stressors typically develop as a result of flawed development,
the inability of an individual to pursue achievement goals successfully within
an organization, or some combination of all three (Francis & Millburn 112).
Task-related stressors involve role ambiguity, conflicting task demands, work
overload or underload, inadequate resource support, no provision for meaningful
participation in the decision-making process, and insecurity, among others
(Francis & Millburn 112). Stress outcomes associated with occupational
stressors (both task and context) tend to vary rather widely. Workers may simply
resort to daydreaming or fantasizing. They may react more actively by creating
interpersonal and interorganizational conflicts. They may get sick, or they may
terminate their relationship with the organization. These actions are just a few
of literally dozens of stress-related outcomes, which may result from
occupational stressors. Absenteeism and substance abuse are two additional high
profile and easily identifiable stress outcomes of occupational stressors.
Unfortunately, an additional and increasingly frequent outcome of
organizationally related stress is violent behavior perpetrated either in the
workplace or directed at co-workers in other locations (Dreyer 19). Research
indicates that stress is often higher among blue-collar workers than among
managerial personnel (Friedman 33-4). Job level, associated with job status, was
found to be tied to self-esteem. Lower self-esteem was associated with higher
levels of stress. Alienation from the organization is related to the development
of occupational stress ("Murder at the Post Office" 29). Alienation
with respect to occupational stress is an objective social situation. Such a
definition of a stressor means that it could have an impact, whether or not its
presence in the environment was perceived by those individuals working in that
environment. Alienation has indeed been linked to violent behavior in the
workplace ("Murder..." 29). The increasing level of violence in
American society has also been implicated in the increasing level of
work-related violence (McCune 35). More disgruntled employees are turning to
force in order to resolve their problems (McCune 38). This research examined the
phenomenon of work-related violence as caused by various factors. Approximately
7,000 work-related homicides occur each year in the United States along with
nearly one million non-fatal acts of work-related violence. High levels of
work-related stress as well as a failure to establish meaningful interpersonal
relationships have been implicated casually in this phenomenon along with a
growing acceptance of violence by society.BibliographyBertrand, A.L. Social Organization, 5th ed. (Philadelphia, F.A. Davis, 1992).
Dreyer, R.S. "Fired for Cause." Supervision, Vol. 55, September 1994;
pp. 19-20. Filipczak, Bib. "Armed and Dangerous at Work." Training,
Vol. 30, July 1993; pp. 39- 43. Francis, G & Millburn, G. Human Behavior in
the Work Environment, 4th ed. (Santa Monica, CA : Goodyear Publishing, 1994).
Friedman, Sam. "Firms slow to manage security risk." National
Underwriter: Property & Casualty & Risk Benefits Management, Vol. 39,
September 26, 1994; pp. 3-5. Hinkle, L.E., Jr. "Stress and Disease: The
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Perspectives, Vol. 7, Summer 1994; pp. 14-19. Mason, J.O. "The Dimensions
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1993; pp. 1-3. McCune, Jenny C. "The Age of Rage." Small Business
Reports, Vol. 19, March 1994; pp. 35-41. "Companies Grapple With Workplace
Violence." Management Review, Vol. 83, March 1994; pp. 52-57. "Murder
at the Post Office." Training & Development, Vol. 48, January 1994; p.
29. Naylor, J, Pritchard, R. & Ilgen, D. A Theory of Behavior Organizations,
4th ed. (New York, NY: Academic Press, 1994). Segal, Jonathan A. "When
Charles Manson Comes to the Workplace." HR Magazine, Vol. 39, June 1994;
pp. 33-8. Silberman, C.E. Criminal Violence, Criminal Justice, 4th ed., (New
York, NY: Vantage Books, 1994). Totman, R. Social Causes of Illness, 3rd
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